Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa is regarded by many as the greatest Portuguese writer of modern times. He spent most of his life in the city of Lisbon, and one can still to find much of him in the Portuguese capital.

The city is also mine, because I have been living here for many years. I know it well, after strolling so many times through its streets, but there are always details and perspectives that we miss. Some time ago I decided to “look” at the city through Fernando Pessoa’s eyes. I did not visit any street that I had yet to know, but I saw and experienced Lisbon in a different way.

I imagined that thin, secretive man, with gray clothing, a cigarette in his hand, glasses and a hat on his head, walking in the streets, thinking of the words that he would write down on paper after that. I went to see where he was born, where he lived, where he spent time with friends to drink coffee or where he was alone with his thoughts. Where he met his love and where he lived his last days.

This is the ride that I invite you to take. I hope that you like to see Lisbon in a different way.

Pessoa early years (up to 7 years of age)

The writer’s history began on the June 13th of 1888. On that Thursday afternoon, on the left door of the 4th floor of no. 4 of Largo de São Carlos, Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa was born. In Lisbon’s heart, in the Chiado area, right in front of Teatro Nacional de S. Carlos. In the building where he was born, today we can find a plaque commemorating his birth.

Building where Fernando Pessoa was born
Building where Fernando Pessoa was born
Plaque commemorating the birth of Fernando Pessoa
Plaque commemorating the birth of Fernando Pessoa

His mother, Maria Madalena Pinheiro Nogueira, was from the Azores, the father, Joaquim de Seabra Pessoa, was from Lisbon. They baptized his son when he was one month old, in the Basílica of Mártires, in Chiado, not too far from his birthplace.

Interior of the Basilica of the Martyrs
Interior of the Basilica of the Martyrs

His father Joaquim died of tuberculosis, when Fernando Pessoa was five years old. The family moved to an apartment located in Rua de S. Marçal, No. 104, 3rd floor. This was the house where Pessoa probably wrote his first stanza. He was seven years old at that time. The stanza was named “Minha querida mama” (“My dear mom”).

Shortly after her husband’s death, the widowed mother married the Commander João Miguel Rosa, who shortly before had been appointed consul of Portugal in Durban, a British colony in South Africa. Soon after the wedding, the whole family moved to Durban, where they spent 9 years.

Where to go

  • Largo de S. Carlos No.4, 4th floor – where he was born;
  • Basilica dos Mártires – where he was baptized;
  • Rua de S. Marçal nº104 3rd floor – where he lived after his father’s death.

South Africa (from 8 to 17 years of age)

Fernando Pessoa arrived in Durban, South Africa, with his family, when he was 8 years old. There, he attended a college where, in three eyes, he completed the equivalent of five. Soon proved to be a brilliant student.

He returned to Lisbon for a holiday period that would last a couple of months, having returned to South Africa after that. After that, he joined the university, where he wrote the best essay in an English examination, among 899 candidates.

The definitive return to the Portuguese capital happened in 1905, when Pessoa was 17 years old.

Return to Lisbon (17 to 47 years of age)

Fernando Pessoa returned to Lisbon by himself. He was 17 years old. For two years, he attended the course of letters and spent several months as an intern in R.G. Dun, an international agency of business information. When he was 21 years old, he assembled “Empresa Íbis – Tipográfica e Editora”, a printing company that closed its doors after one year.

Between his 25 and 35 years of age, he worked in about ten offices, always in Lisbon’s downtown, as a secretary, translator or commercial correspondent. He never struggled to find work, perhaps because he wrote and spoke English. In some of those places, he wrote excerpts of his books. At the office of R. da Assunção no. 42, 2nd floor, he met Ofélia Queirós, his only known love. They exchanged numerous love letters, but they never got married.

Building where Fernando Pessoa met Ofélia Queirós
Building where Fernando Pessoa met Ofélia Queirós

Over the years during which he lived in his hometown, he deeply experienced the city. He lived, worked, wrote and always wandered throughout Lisbon.

I highlight two of his many residences:

  • Largo do Carmo 18-20 1st floor – this rented room was the place where he translated English and Spanish into Portuguese, for Biblioteca Internacional de Obras Célebres;
  • Coelho da Rocha no. 16 1st floor – was his last residence. It is currently known as Casa Fernando Pessoa.
Building where Fernando Pessoa lived (Largo do Carmo)
Building where Fernando Pessoa lived (Largo do Carmo)

Pessoa attended lots of cafes and restaurants in Lisbon, with friends, or many times alone, since he was very secluded. He often visited Brasileira of Rossio and Chiado, Martinho da Arcada, or the tavern of Abel Pereira da Fonseca. All of these places still exist and are amazing.

A place that no longer exists, and where Pessoa had lunch on a daily basis for some time, was Restaurante Pessoa, in Rua dos Douradores no. 190.

Brasileira do Chiado

Brasileira do Chiado is an emblematic café in Lisbon, which was inaugurated in 1905. It was in this space that figures such as Pessoa or Almada Negreiros met regularly and held tertúlias. It´s located in Chiado, the heart of Lisbon.

On the terrace of Brasileira do Chiado, one can find the popular statue of Fernando Pessoa. It was inaugurated in the year of his definitive return to Lisbon.

Bronze statue on the brazilian esplanade
Bronze statue on the brazilian esplanade

Martinho da Arcada

This is Lisbon’s oldest café and is located in Praça do Comércio no.3 (Terreiro do Paço), next to the Tagus River. It was inaugurated in 1782 by the Marquis of Pombal with the name “Casa da Neve” and the current designation was only given to it in 1845.

Pessoa always sat at the same marble table, which is still there exactly like it was when the writer attended the café.

Usual table (without towel) in Martinho da Arcada
Usual table (without towel) in Martinho da Arcada

Tavern of Abel Pereira da Fonseca

Pessoa, during a certain period of his life, had the habit of going to “Abel” to drink a glass of brandy. “Abel” was a tavern of the businessman Abel Pereira da Fonseca.

Inside of it, there is still an image of the writer at the counter, sipping a glass of wine. The caption was written by Ofélia and says: “Flagrante delitro”.

He was admitted to the Hospital de S. Luís dos Franceses, in R. Luz Soriano no. 182. He died at 47 years of age, perhaps of cirrhosis. He was buried in Cemitério dos Prazeres and, 50 years after that, his mortal remains were moved into Jerónimos Monastery.

Where to go

  • da Assunção no. 42 2nd floor – the office where he met Ofélia Queirós, his only girlfriend;
  • Largo do Carmo no. 18-20 1st floor – where he lived;
  • Coelho da Rocha no. 16 1st floor – his last address and currently Casa Fernando Pessoa;
  • Brasileira do Chiado – café that he attended and where a statue of his is found in the terrace;
  • Martinho da Arcada – café that he attended and where there is the table where he sat at, kept exactly as it looked like back then;
  • Tavern Abel Pereira da Fonseca – a place that he regularly visited. Here we can find the famous image “Flagrante delitro”.